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We Need More Brave Principals

May 6, 2012

Brave Principals « Diane Ravitch’s blog

I would add to the title of this post by saying that we also need brave superintendents and brave school board members. The article below talks about the courage it took for some New York City principals to stand up to the State Education Department, especially and inexplicably, because they weren’t getting the teachers’ unions of New York to support them.  I am with Diane, why is that NYSUT?

The principals of New York State are amazing. When the State Education Department began creating its “educator evaluation system,” it called together the principals and showed them what it was up to. It showed them a video of guys building a plane while it was flying. This was called, in self-congratulatory parlance, “building a plane in mid-air.” A few principals noticed that the guys building the exterior of the plane were wearing parachutes, but the passengers didn’t have parachutes. The principals realized that they, their staff, and their students were the passengers. The ones with the parachutes were the overseers at the New York State Education Department. For them, it was a lark, but the evaluation system they created was do-or-die for the hapless passengers.

Excellent analogy!  The people who design these assessments are not the ones being judged by them, they are not even teachers, they are mathematicians.

The principals rose up in revolt, led by Carol Burris and Sean Feeney. They wrote a petition and circulated it to other principals. In a matter of weeks, they had the signatures of more than a third of the principals in the state. All objected to the test-score based evaluation, all objected to being the state’s guinea pigs, and all insisted that the state should do some pilots before imposing its best guess on the principals, teachers, and students of New York.

It took tremendous courage for principals to sign the petition. Sadly, they didn’t even get the support of the teachers’ unions of New York State. Indeed, NYSUT told its members not to sign. I can’t explain why. It made no sense to me. Why would teachers want to be judged by the arbitrary rise or fall of test scores.

The principals created a website, newyorkprincipals.org. Lots of people have signed their petition. I hope more do.

One of the brave principals wrote a letter to Commissioner John King yesterday. It was reported in the New York Times blog, Schoolbook. (http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/05/02/long-island-principal-decries-quality-of-state-exams/)

The principal, Sharon Fougner, said the following:

The tests contained:

Unfamiliar, untaught material

Deliberately misleading questions and answer choices

Ambiguous, poorly worded questions and answer choices

Inconsistent directions

Misplaced answer lines

Omitted directional cues

Multiple answers that could be correct

Inappropriately sized work spaces

Extended multiple steps (as many as 5 or 6) in single problems

Incomplete/missing information

Reading levels that are above grade

These errors by Pearson and the State Education Department have caused “confusion, anxiety, miscalculations, distraction, misuse of time, and fatigue.” The “inordinate length” of these exams, wrote the principal, is “beyond the stamina and attention span of eight to ten year olds.”

All of this together adds up to one single conclusion: The New York State Education Department is guilty of child abuse. Let me say it again, this time slowly: The New York State Education Department is guilty of child abuse. And incompetence.

Strong charges by a strong lady.  It seems to me that Pearson (I have taken many Pearson based tests and am set to take another in June) has a strangle hold on “testing.”  It might be interesting to see who the CEO of this company is, and see who are the members of their Board of Directors to see what connections they have.

Will anyone be accountable? Don’t hold your breath.

Diane

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